SQA boss urged to quit amid anger over gap between rich and poor pupils

THE chief executive of Scotland’s qualifications authority has been urged to quit amid opposition anger over the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils.

Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) results show those in the fifth most deprived areas achieved A to C grades at a lower rate than those in the fifth least deprived areas.

Ministers said the poverty-related attainment gap is narrower than in 2019, although slightly wider than last year.

READ MORE: SQA results: Drop in pass rates for Scottish pupils amid Covid disruption

For Higher results, the gap between richest and poorest went from 6.5 per cent in 2020 to 7.9% in 2021.

Both were down considerably from the 16.9% gap pre-pandemic in 2019.

The gap between the proportion of pupils from the wealthiest and poorest areas getting A grades at Higher increased to 22.1%, its highest point since before 2017.

The SQA said the different assessment models used in the wake of coronavirus made it difficult to compare figures on a year-to-year basis, while the increase in 2021 is unlikely to be statistically significant.

Traditional exams were scrapped for the second year in a row due to the pandemic, with a teacher-led “alternative certification model” taking place this year.

Discussing the attainment gap during a briefing with journalists on Tuesday, SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson said pupils have faced “disruption to learning and teaching this year”.

She said: “We’ve modified approaches to assessment to address disruption to learning, providing additional flexibility to deal with exceptional circumstances of this year.”

Ms Robertson said there had been movements in the attainment gap each year, while the overall gap had narrowed since 2017.

LibDem education spokeswoman Beatrice Wishart said pupils “were forced into exams in all but name, sitting as many as 16 assessments in a week, crammed in with little notice”.

She added: “The fact that the gap between the richest and the poorest has increased again make a mockery of SNP promises to close the attainment gap. 

“The blame for this sits firmly with the government and its education quangos.”

She added: “With this years’ process drawing to a close, and still repeatedly refusing to apologise for last year’s debacle, Fiona Robertson should step aside and allow that reform to take place.”

The Scottish Conservatives highlighted the pass rate for pupils from the most deprived areas had fallen at a faster rate than those from the least deprived.

The party’s education spokesman Oliver Mundell said: “Compared to last year, grades are down across the board. The attainment gap is up. 

“That should set alarm bells ringing that this year’s system is just as flawed and unfair as the shambles pupils suffered last year.

“But most damning of all, pupils from poorer backgrounds have been marked down the most from 2020 to 2021. 

“They are twice as likely to see their grades fall at Higher and Advanced Higher than children from the most affluent areas, year-on-year.

“That is nothing short of a disgrace.”

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, Michael Marra, accused the education authorities of a “total lack of leadership”.

He said: “This system has widened the educational attainment gap in Scotland, meaning that poorest pupils have been impacted the worst by the SQA and Scottish Government mismanagement.

“The result is that there are many young people, particularly in our poorest communities, who have not achieved the grades they had hoped, or deserved.”

He called for re-sit guarantee and the offer of a college place to anyone hit by the pandemic who wants to re-take their subjects.

Scottish Greens education spokesman Ross Greer said it was “not a surprise that the attainment gap has widened”

He added: “This intense suspicion of working class young people who achieve just as much as their middle class colleagues shames Scotland.”

SNP Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “Closing the poverty-related attainment gap and ensuring every young person has the chance to fulfil their potential remains central to our work.

“We know that the challenges presented by the pandemic mean our efforts to deliver equity in education are more vital than ever, so we are investing a further £1 billion over the course of this Parliament to help close the gap.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992